Nailing the ambience goes a long way in getting the vibe right at home. Decent furniture can be expensive, but even the most basic rooms can be made into cosy dens with the right accessories and some strategically placed lamps. So smart lighting, which lets you control the *exact* brightness and shade without even having to get off your sofa, seems like a no-brainer.
Even better, unlike a lick of paint or putting up a couple of shelves, smart lighting is entirely non-structural so, if you're a renter, there's no chance it'll affect your security deposit when you leave.
But while I'd seen loads of beaut setups on Instagram with artfully positioned pink and blue lights creating a pretty glow in living rooms, would I actually be able to recreate the look in my rented place?First I had to get my head around the technology and the different options available.
What are smart lights?
Smart lights connect to bluetooth, wifi, or both, and can be controlled via your smartphone and by voice assistant. All brands’ offerings work with an app, where you can switch bulbs on and off, group them together and create schemes – like strong overheads for reading or working, or dimmed mood lights for film night. You can set schedules for them to come on or change automatically, like to wake you up gently (rather than with your phone’s angry alarm), and you can program them to turn on while you’re away to deter thieves, too.
Some, like Philips’s Hue range, have an optional hub that connects to your lights along with your other smart tech from the same system, such as doorbells or security cameras. You can also get accessories like dimmer switches and remotes to make your setup extra user-friendly.This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by WiZ (@wizlighting)What kinds of smart lights are available?
You'll find you can get pretty much everything you need to turn your house into an ambient dream. There are the standard bulbs for most fittings, as well as vintage-style filament options, recessed spotlights, ceiling lights, pendants and wall lights. You also get LED lightstrips that make a space look expensive. Stick them under kitchen cupboards and shelves, around your mirror or TV – wherever you want, basically. Some strips now even connect to your telly or gaming console and adapt to what's on screen.Related Story20 magical ways to use fairy lights in your roomFor my trial I opted for Philips Hue and roped in my editor, Sally Newall, to try out the more purse-friendly Wiz system throughout her flat.This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Sanna Ukkonen (@voittoponi)
Best smart lights: Philips Hue
The lowdown: Philips Hue has the biggest range of products of all the smart lighting brands, with bulbs starting at around £12. If you opt to purchase the Bridge (its smart hub), you can connect up to 50 Philips smart devices on the same system. The free Bluetooth app still connects a fairly decent 10 devices, though.
My setup: I decked out my bedroom and living room with a range of Hue products:
The three bulbs went in my bedside lamps and main bedroom light fitting. I put the lightstrips around my living room TV and inside the radiator cover, which sits underneath (see pic). The telly is wall-mounted and had to come down for setup, which was a faff, but installing the strips themselves was easy. The Iris lamp is also in the lounge, on the floor next to my Areca palm, where it’s concealed by the sofa and casts a pretty glow over the corner.Charley WardCharley Ward
I tested setup with the app and then the Bridge. I’m *not* a techy sort, but a monkey could get these up and running. It took two minutes to have all the lights connected using both systems. I made a ‘living room’ group and a ‘bedside table’ group via the app, so these bulbs all come on together when I ask Alexa to turn on the lights. You’ll need a separate Alexa speaker for each room, fyi.Charley Ward
We liked: Designing a lighting scheme is a fun creative exercise, and using the lightstrips means you’re not limited to where light fittings traditionally go, giving you much more freedom and control. The preset lighting schemes are lovely – I wouldn’t have thought to put some of those colours together tbf, but they look beautiful when on, and they’re dimmable.
You have access to the full colour spectrum so it’s fun playing around with the shades. We enjoyed asking Alexa to set different colours. “Make the lights gold,” generated some laughs, but perhaps we all need to get out more.Related Story36 bedroom ideas to refresh tired interiors
Take note: When setting up the strip around the TV, when I first turned them on, they were white but one section was blue, where it was bent around the corner. I thought I had a faulty strip or I’d broken it, but a slight readjustment solved the problem, so be careful you’re not being too rough when manoeuvring strips.
Also, while the bulb works in my bedroom main light, my actual fitting is a bit dodgy, so it’s not especially secure. It works as a normal light, but tends to drop in and out of connectivity to the app. That’s not the light’s fault, I need a new fitting, but it’s something to bear in mind.
The verdict: Despite being a complete tech noob, I love my fun smart lighting scheme. You don’t realise what a mood-booster decent lighting is until you’ve got it right – chilly nights in front of the TV feel much cosier now with the strip LEDs in situ.
My open-plan kitchen/living space is really large and the one paltry table lamp I had prior wasn’t really sufficient in the evenings, but having the main lights on felt too harsh (first world problems). Now the combo of my new smart lamp and LED strips is just right – and that’s without having to find anywhere else to put another lamp.
Also, it’s just really pretty. Lots of friends have commented on the striplights especially. I love that I can change the colours (I usually go for a rosy pink), but I’ve enjoyed using Philips’s preset schemes too. And when they’re off, you don't see the strips, which means no eyesores.
Overall, smart lighting is definitely not *necessary*. Decking out your whole house would certainly be pricey if using Philips products, but it is really *nice* to have. I’m definitely going to invest in some more when I have the dollar – I’d love some striplights under my kitchen units and a couple more Iris lamps dotted around my big open plan kitchen-living room. I think a few more placed strategically in the room’s corners (especially next to my bar cart) would look fab.Starter kit E27Philipsphilips-hue.com£169.99SHOP NOWStarter kit B22Philipsphilips-hue.com£89.99SHOP NOWStarter kit GU10Philipsphilips-hue.com£169.99SHOP NOWSmart Light B22 & Plug Bundle Hiveao.com£119.00SHOP NOWSmart Lighting KitHey I'm Homeheyimhome.co.uk£74.99SHOP NOWDeluxe Smart Home Kit IIHey I'm Homeheyimhome.co.uk£279.99SHOP NOWGaming Light KitHey I'm Homeheyimhome.co.uk£199.99SHOP NOWWiz Wi-Fi Enabled Smart PlugWiZjohnlewis.com£14.99SHOP NOWLED Plug & Play Portable Table LampWiZjohnlewis.com£54.99SHOP NOW
Best smart lights: Wiz Connected
The lowdown: Wiz is owned by the same company as Philips and is marketed as a no-fuss, cost-effective way – bulbs start at around £7 – to dip your toe into the smart home world. The lights connect directly to your wifi router, and there's no hub to deal with. Wiz also shouts about its “dynamic” lighting modes, which are colour-changing presets designed to create “an immersive experience”. There’s ‘Ocean’, which is a mix of blues and turquoise greens, ‘Fireplace’, a combo of reds, oranges and yellows, and some slightly less obvious ones – ‘Mojito’ lighting, anyone?
In lockdown, I started renovations on my two-bed flat and wanted to ‘zone’ my open-plan space. My vision was to create distinct lighting schemes in the kitchen, living and dining areas. Plus, as a recent Alexa convert, I liked the idea of not having to get up from the sofa to dim the lights for a movie night.Related StoryModern bedroom ideas to inspire your redecoration
I opted for white spotlights in each ‘room’ downstairs, as well as in my bedroom, office and landing. I went for coloured uplighters around the living room fireplace to create a cosy ambience. For the dining area, I chose three wall-mounted lights so I could get the light levels just right for dinner parties (low enough that it feels evening-y and relaxed but not so low that you can’t see what you’re eating, fyi).Sally NewallSally Newall
As for the landing, before, I had spotlights and a gorge decorative pendant on the same switch. The pendant only takes a non-smart bulb, but the smart spots mean I can now turn them off separately and showcase my jazzy light with no need for rewiring.
In the bedroom I tried Wiz’s table lamp, the Hero, as a solution for when my boyfriend wants to read and I’m after an early night. My usual bedside lights don't work independently – and like my hallway light, there's no smart option for the fitting – so this is a quick fix.
In total, I now have 36 lights across six ‘rooms’. I also ordered some remotes (around £15 each) as I figured I was bound to get visitors who were not on board with the whole smart home thing (hi, Mum). You can set up guests on the system but I wanted to cover every scenario.SALLY NEWALL
So you could say I had ambitious plans. Would I be able to set it up myself? I watched the videos on the app and it looked simple. And it was, sort of, when pairing mode worked. Technically, I just had to ensure I was connected to wifi and power on bulbs to make them “discoverable”. Then for each room, I could group lights or keep them stand-alone.
In my bedroom and hallway, this was fairly seamless. Downstairs, some bulbs paired quickly but others needed to be manually put into “pairing mode” by turning on lights three times in a row. I spent a long time flicking switches and it took some help from the in-app live chat to get everything working, but the result was very satisfying.Sally Newall
We liked: You genuinely can have Wiz lights up and running within two minutes, when the pairing goes smoothly. If it doesn’t, there is support available so you can sort it relatively quickly. Being able to control my three living zones separately has been a game changer.
The colour options within the Wiz app are impressive though, in reality, in the six months I’ve had the lights I’ve only used a few. I like the preset ‘TV Time’ (a blue-purple) hue for the living room uplighters, but can’t pretend ‘Ocean’ transported me to a tropical beach (maybe that was a lot to ask?). I do like that I can adjust the spotlights to an exact tone; it's really helped me relax, particularly in the lounge and bedroom. I also like that you can save your favourite setups as ‘scenes’ so you don’t have to fiddle about recreating them each time.This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Roundabout Lighting Echuca (@roundaboutlightingechuca)
The Alexa integration was simple and the (albeit limited) commands work well for most needs (Wiz also works with Google Home and Siri Shortcuts). I like the dimming and brightening commands – ‘Alexa, dim Sally’s Room by 50 percent’ has become a go-to.
While the Hero light isn’t exactly chic-looking, it works well with Alexa and my boyfriend has been using it every night. There’s a clever ‘bedtime’ setting that dims down gradually over 30 minutes but, apart from that, I haven’t really changed the colours much. It would work really well as a child’s night-light, though.Related Story19 bedroom lights to instantly brighten your room
Take note: If you’re using voice control, keep room and group names distinct, otherwise the assistant gets confused. In the dining room, I started off prefixing each light with ‘Dining’ – eg ‘Dining Wall Lights’, ‘Dining Spots’, but Alexa couldn’t find them. A simplification to ‘Wall’, ‘Spots’ and ‘Table’ sorted that problem.
To be able to command colour by voice, you’ll need to set up Alexa groups. There are clear instructions from Wiz on this but it’s a bit of a faff. Those Wiz-specific dynamic modes aren’t voice-assistant compatible.
The least successful element of my smart lighting system is the remotes. They can only control one ‘room’, rather than the groups or individual lights, so I still need to use voice control to get things right. I often have to re-pair them and sometimes they’re not discoverable at all – not ideal.
The verdict: Most of the time, I love my Wiz lights; my flat feels much calmer and more relaxing. After a busy day, when I’m slobbing out in front of the telly, it feels so cosy with just the fireplace lights on (and it shows off the newly renovated exposed brick!). I’m planning to put smart bulbs in my floor and task lamps next. Upstairs, turning the lights on in my bedroom without having to leave my bed was amazing in winter, and I love that they come on with my ‘scene’, so no more being dazzled when I’m half asleep.
My setup was undoubtedly cheaper than if I’d have used Philips Hue. When it comes to future-proofing, though, Hue may have advantages: the range is more extensive. Hue’s system is also compatible with lots of smart home products and platforms. But for now, Wiz’s simplicity and price-point is ideal. Next time I’d not bother with the remotes, though!Bloom table lampPhilipsfave.co£69.99SHOP NOWAlexa Smart Light Bulbs merossamazon.co.uk£29.99SHOP NOW15m LED Light RollGoveeamazon.co.uk£32.99SHOP NOWSmart Bulbs GU10Leproamazon.co.uk£33.99SHOP NOWPillar double spotlightPhilipsphilips-hue.com£159.99SHOP NOWPlay Light BarPhilipsphilips-hue.com£119.99SHOP NOWFlourish pendant lightPhilipsphilips-hue.com£319.99SHOP NOW2m Smart Lightstrip Wizargos.co.uk£34.99SHOP NOWDimmable White GU10 LED Smart BulbWizargos.co.uk£5.99SHOP NOWHero Smart Table LampWiZargos.co.uk£49.99SHOP NOWTunable White G95 BulbWizargos.co.uk£13.99SHOP NOWGradient lightstrip 2 metrePhilipsphilips-hue.com£129.99SHOP NOWRelated StoryThe biggest interiors trends on Pinterest rn This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io